Bus Advertising Proposal Should Be Nixed

16 01 2014

Mayor Kirk Caldwell is to be commended for attempting to address the City’s fiscal shortcomings by proposing that advertising be permitted on the exterior of City buses (Bill 69.) But he is driving down a road full of potholes. As other cities and municipalities have learned, government-regulated advertising poses a host of constitutional and ethical problems, beginning with the First Amendment right of free expression.

It may also weaken Honolulu’s model ban on outdoor billboard advertising, the oldest in the nation and arguably our best tool to protect Oahu’s natural beauty. As long as tourism is an important cog in our economy, such protections must not be dismissed or ignored. Just as importantly, many if not most of our residents would be offended if billboard advertising were allowed.

Bill 69 delineates the types of bus advertising that would be unacceptable – a government-imposed limitation on free speech that various advocacy groups would argue is unfair. Similar cases elsewhere in the nation have seen government entities lose and the very types of advertising they were trying to prevent had to be allowed.

Perhaps the most important reason to ban exterior ads on City buses is public safety. The nature of advertising is to draw people’s attention. By distracting motorists and pedestrians, the risk of accidents and other vehicular incidents increases significantly. We outlaw the use of hand-held devices while driving for that very reason. Any distraction while operating a vehicle threatens public safety.

Ironically, public safety was at the heart of House Bill 2708, which sought to prohibit commercial advertising on vehicles. It was co-introduced by then State Rep. Kirk Caldwell.

The Mayor is encouraged to continue seeking ways to bolster City finances. But exposing the City to a rash of expensive and time-consuming lawsuits, which Bill 69 invites, is counterproductive.



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